“All that glitters is not gold” is a phrase that for hundreds of years has meant things are not always what they seem on the surface.
For 2017 Verona Area High School graduate Noah Meister, it was his childhood growing up in Verona that he said had more lurking below the surface than was evident at first glance.
Meister went on to attend film school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and graduated last spring. He’s been living and working in Milwaukee since, while drafting a feature-length screenplay called “All That Glitters.”
He began writing “All That Glitters” last year and said he’s now on his 10th draft. It’s a crime thriller – based on “grounded ideas,” Meister said, but made to fit into a crime drama storyline.
Familial problems, relationship problems and various forms of abuse are among the themes he plans to explore with the film.
“The title derives from this idea of suburbia being a place where all that glitters is not gold,” Meister told the Press. “It’s a pristine place where everything seems perfect, but there are cracks below the surface. Everyone has problems, but nobody wants to address them – so they’re problems that go unaddressed. I write about that from a few different perspectives, but it takes place from a teenager’s point of view and it’s largely based off of problems teens face.”
While not autobiographical, Meister based some of those problems on the cracks below the surface he said he saw growing up in Verona.
“I took memories from the time period I wanted to write about and listed them out – I wanted to write something real,” he said. “Since most of my stories have been completely fictitious, I wanted to do something real to life.”
The process became kind of therapeutic for him, Meister said. His films of him up to this point have always been fantastical and not grounded in reality. Upon reflection, he contemplated why he’d never written about himself and wondered if he simply was n’t an interesting person to write about – or rather, if he was avoiding part of his life from him and was n’t dealing with certain things from his past of him.
Though, he said with each new draft of the script he’s made it less about himself and has reworked scenes to better fit his character and storyline.
More than just the screenwriter, he is also the director and a producer of the project, and has been working to fundraise and hire a crew – mostly other grads from UW-Milwaukee – since finishing the screenplay in December.
Helping a friend fundraise to produce their feature film helped Meister become more confident doing the same for his own film.
He said he’s really excited that his crew are mostly all people he’s known and loved for years.
“On a project this small you end up wearing a lot of the hats yourself,” Meister said. “It’s a fun project. I like doing it all, but it’s also very collaborative, I have 10 other people on board.”
The Verona native made short films in high school and took a class to help produce the VAHS news show. Meister said he’s made somewhere around 10 to 15 short films, if you count the “bad ones” he completed in high school.
His first feature-length storyline has taken inspiration from a variety of crime thrillers, Meister said. Among those are “Good Time” and “Uncut Gems” by the Safdie brothers, “Mean Streets” by Martin Scorsese and “Blood Simple” by the Coen Brothers.
But he also needed a little encouragement that making a feature film on a shoestring budget was achievable, so he started watching low-budget movies.
“It just seems like a kind of impossible thing, it doesn’t seem like something normal people should be able to do,” he said. “I started watching films made with a crew the size that I’m working with, and it inspired me that you can do it yourself. You don’t need much – just a few friends and a camera.”
Over the years I have received a lot of encouragement, as well, from supportive teachers in high school to everyone at UW-Milwaukee’s film program being “so kind and welcoming and enthusiastic,” which is what Meister said he needed.
While in his 10th rewrite, Meister said his script is 95% finished and at this point he’s just making some tweaks to dialogue.
The project is currently in the casting and location scouting phases. It’s slated to be filmed over three weeks in August and could be ready for screening in early to mid-2023 if everything goes smoothly.
He plans to submit the film to a variety of independent film festivals and even if he doesn’t win, he said it could help get his name out there.
While he wants to get out and see the world, Meister said a filmmaker doesn’t have to move to Hollywood anymore to make a film.
“You don’t need to go to Los Angeles to make a movie anymore, it’s awesome, very freeing,” he said. “You now can make movies anywhere, do casting calls through Facebook. I don’t want to move to Los Angeles – I’ve heard bad experiences from everyone who’s moved there.”
Right now, a part time side job is helping Meister pay his bills, but he said ideally he’d be able to get paid enough for his film work to make that his full time job one day.
He also views creating the film a bit like going to grad school, which he’s not sure if he’ll ever do.
“I’ve considered it, but I don’t know what more school would do that just getting out and doing the work would not do,” he said. “I just want to see how working for a bit works out. I just want to see if I can make it. I learn so much from just being around the people who do this. Being hands-on is so incredibly important for things like lighting, or producing, that you can’t always learn just from a classroom.”